Before I begin a quick analysis of the unquestionable and deplorable pricing structures forced upon widows and orphans, let me first make the point very quickly by mentioning a job posting I saw today (verbatim...the bold and caps are exactly as written)...
"2 Exp. cemetery and funeral service SALES PEOPLE needed. 401k, health insurance, training pay. Career position. HIGH INCOME POSSIBILITY. Recession Proof. 100% comm."
I see nothing about a compassionate individual wanted, or a thoughtful person to help grieving families and friends through this time of emotional and financial chaos. I see SALES PEOPLE...HIGH INCOME POSSIBILITY...100% commission. I see a flawed business model, with a target client base of grieving and irrational widows and children, with the focus on earnings potential based on how much you can sell them while they are not thinking clearly.
I understand that funeral homes and commercial cemeteries are for-profit entities...and I highly encourage a free market society. But, when the recruiting pitch is to make as much money by taking advantage of those who are emotionally distraught and not in a frame of mind to think through financial decisions...I believe that is just plain wrong, disingenuous and quite frankly, shameful.
I recently compared the funeral services from 2 funeral homes in NW Indiana, 1 in Elmhurst, IL, 1 in CA and 1 in NY, comparing a variety of regions across the US. NOT including a casket, cemetery plot or outer burial container, which I will discuss next, the range in expenses JUST for the funeral arrangements was $3,850 to $5,802...or a range in over $1,900 for the EXACT SAME SERVICES AND ARRANGEMENTS. Mind you that the 2 NW Indiana funeral homes are about 2 blocks away from each other! But, who thinks about shopping around when you've just lost your partner, your parent or your child?
You see, this is how it works...funeral homes charge an up front Basic Service Fee, which includes things like a "counseling fee"...paid no doubt to the 100% commission SALESPERSON...securing permits, filing death certificates and coordinating with the cemetery. It also includes an allocation to property taxes, overhead, personnel, etc...normal operating expenses of any business.
Everything else is itemized. Embalming generally averaged around $500, dressing and casketing the body averaged $300, visitation ranged from $400 for 4 hours on a weekday after noon to $1,175 for a full day and does not include a memorial or funeral service, which tacked on another average of about $500. Then you add an average of $300 for the transfer of the remains to the funeral home, average $200 for the hearse, average $250 for the utility/flower vehicle and $200 for a lead car (not a limo, which tacks on another couple hundred dollars).
Then you are pushed to purchase a guest register for about $40, memorial cards or folders for about $50, acknowledgement or thank you cards for about $40, and other little special touches that the SALESPERSON is sure would make the deceased feel special and important.
Mind you that this does not include the "cash advance items" like the obituary, in some cases the death certificate if it is not specifically included in the Basic Service Fee, flowers, and other items that, once again, the SALESPERSON is confident the deceased would have wanted, so how could you possibly not demonstrate this last show of love. A crucifix would really be a nice touch for only $38 and the pallbearers would look so elegant with matching gloves for $18.
So, without a casket, outer burial container or cemetery plot, the average cost of this 5 diversified sampling of funeral homes is $4,481.80.
According to Forbes in a 2005 publication, the average nationwide plot sells for $4,000. Outer burial vaults (although some areas still allow only liners) will run you on average $800 - $1,200 and a casket will run you on average from $2,000 to $6,000.
So, only using averages, the traditional at-need funeral service will cost you $4,481.80 + $4,000 + (low side outer burial vault) $1,000 + $3,000 (very low casket estimate)...for a combined total of $12,481.80...a pretty nice commission earned on that one, fur sure! In fact, using these low ballpark averages for the latter 3 items, if a funeral home ONLY conducted 50 at-need traditional funerals per year, at $12,481.80, and paid the SALESPERSON an 8% commission, that would equal an income just shy of $50,000/year. If the funeral home conducted 100 at-need traditional funerals per year, that income doubles to just under $100,000/year. Pretty nice chuck of change from manipulating the distraught.
This does not have to be the case for you. There are so many ways to save money while having a dignified, respectful funeral...the key is educating yourself, knowing your rights, making the decisions in advance, and documenting them. Somebody will have to make the decisions...it can be you or you can punt it to your loved ones.
Be wise...Be prepared...
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